Billboard Magazine, October 21, 2006
Musicians and their supporters have long maligned the "pay-to-play" practice of charging bands for stage time, which took root in Los Angeles rock clubs in the 1980s, because it shifts the financial risk of shows from promoters to artists. But pay-to-play persists, especially at the local level where young bands, eager for any exposure, hope the benefits will eventually outweigh the costs.
Pay-to-play exists in various forms, from festivals that charge submission fees to the thousands of dollars asked of second-stage bands at Ozzfest. But local club deals typically require bands to purchase a minimum number of tickets to sell or to compensate the venue for any not sold.
"Charging artists is rare at the national level," says Justin Hirschman, an agent for Artist Group International. "It's fairly common for local promoters to have bands guarantee turnout, but usually they're bands who haven't toured regionally and are looking for gigs in their backyard."
Sometimes the incentives to invest in club slots are too good to be true. On Sept. 20, New Jersey bands received an e-mail from Scott Colondrillo of Audible Spectrum Records, a third-party booking agency based in Paramus, soliciting bands to pay $350 for an October show at the Knitting Factory in Manhattan. If a band responded, they received an auto reply with an announcement that "New Line Cinema has asked Audible Spectrum Records to screen and submit demos to them so they can pick four bands to play a battle of the bands after-party for the premier of the new Tenacious D movie (The Pick of Destiny, to be released in November)," adding, "In order to be eligible to be submitted you must have had a show played through our company."
The enticement worked—Nicole Tegge of New Jersey's American Halo says her band paid $200 to enter an Audible Spectrum-sponsored contest because "the winner gets a show at the Knitting Factory and gets to play the movie premiere for Tenacious D."
But according to the New York Press, co-sponsor of the Nov. 8 event, no such arrangement exists. "The New York Press staff is selecting all of the bands. Audible Spectrum has no affiliation with it," says associate publisher Nick Thomas, adding that the event is not a premiere but a competition to promote the movie. According to Thomas, Audible Spectrum had e-mailed the New York Press about a possible cross-promotion, but no deal was made. "The New York Press does not support pay-to-play in any way," Thomas says. "We would never have bands pay for a show or hire someone who did."
Colondrillo's e-mail also included a promise of live event coverage on "92.3 K-ROCK" (WXRK New York, now actually called WFNY, Free FM), which station representatives say they never booked.
Audible Spectrum owner/CEO Dan Gargano admits his company has no agreement with WFNY or the Tenacious D event, and denies any knowledge of Colondrillo or his e-mail, promising to "check with our satellite offices and come down hard on whoever sent that out." But Colondrillo acknowledges the e-mail and says, "All the information we send out comes from Dan, and we all work with him directly."
Dennis Moriali, bassist for New Jersey's Rose Dreamer, says his band's two shows with Audible Spectrum weren't worth the cost. "The $160 we paid for 20 tickets is two hours in the studio, and you can't get your friends to pay almost $10 for tickets," he says. However, his band will continue to work with other area pay-to-play promoters because he feels they offer the only chance to support a well-known band or get label attention.
"It's really ruining the local scene," Rose Dreamer guitarist Steve
Nahorniak says. "When we put on our own shows we have a much better turnout.
There's no pressure to sell, just play and get to know each other. That's
how shows should be."